A pair of movies this week tilts at civilization and its discontents, championing fluid sexuality and scorning societal hypocrisies. That the cause is quixotic hardly excuses such tepid filmmaking; neither offers much beyond its role-blurring premise. In Spain’s I Will Survive, decent, unlucky Marga (Emma Suárez) first loses her boyfriend Roberto in an accident, then has her job taken away by a supposed ally. Working at a video store (after having given birth to Roberto’s son), she meets Iñaqui (Juan Diego Botto), an affable sculptor a decade her junior who happens to be, historically speaking, a little light in the loafers. Both are avowedly “terrified” by their blossoming romance, as gossip, custom, and Iñaqui’s own disorientation conspire to nip it in the bud.
With its down-to-earth, middle-aged heroine tossed into the slipstream of Iberian sexual mores, I Will Survive bears some resemblance to All About My Mother, but lacks its compatriot’s flamboyance, content to traffic in glib banalities and unwitting self-absorption. (Particularly galling is Iñaqui’s equation of a recent bad relationship with Marga’s catastrophic loss.) Suárez and Botto turn in likable performances, but an army of superfluous characters, a sputtering plot arc, and gratuitous contemplation of the gap between life and the movies (Marga reveres Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and you can bet “Moon River” will turn up eventually) make I Will Survive nothing less than the soul of convention.
The multinationally produced Princesa tells the true story (minus the inconvenient suicide) of Fernanda (né Fernando) Farias de Albuquerque, a Brazilian transvestite who comes to Milan in hopes of whoring just long enough to fund a sex-change operation; revealing a superficially outré endeavor’s bourgeois heart, her dream is to be a housewife. A married john named Gianni takes “Princesa” for a woman, recoils at the truth, falls in love all the same. They set up house, and he’s delighted to pay for her surgery. But Fernanda’s hormone therapy (in preparation for gender reassignment) leaves her feeling empty and listless; then Gianni learns his ex is expecting, and it’s back to square one for Fernanda. (Per I Will Survive, pregnancy is simply a nuisance, cynically deployed to define the eternal feminine.)
In the title role, the lithe Ingrid de Souza conveys the requisite she-male inscrutability, but beneath the carefully applied veneer (mercenary struts alternating with sullen looks), her character remains a cipher. Unsettling in spots, Princesa ultimately glosses over the futility of Fernanda’s plight, her misery rapidly erased. By the time she’s abandoned her fairy tale to rejoin her fellow streetwalkers, at home in her body and her trade, her journey has already become pedestrian.